Uncomfortable conversations to ‘see’ the person behind the label

Diversity management is the deliberate, unwavering pursuit, when managing employees and working with clients, to ‘make visible’ “all of the significant differences between people, including perceptions of differences … such as our thinking styles or beliefs and values (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010, p. 8).

At TEDx Auckland 2012, Philip Patston gave a presentation entitled: The Label Libel, A New Look at Diversity. In his presentation Patston explores notions of diversity. He initially describes his own experience of the labels he gave himself, and the labels (with underpinning assumptions) that other people gave him, which created feelings of confusion and frustration. He identifies that labels are sometimes useful because they can create awareness. However, if they are unquestioned, they frequently lead to judgements, inequality, and separation by creating ‘us and them’ situations.

By questioning and unpacking our use of labels, we can uncover the textures and appreciate the gradations of meaning that diversity offers. However, this can be uncomfortable, as it will require delving into our own values, beliefs, and biases – some of which we may not be aware of. However, “discomfort brings engagement and change …. [and] actions lead to success” (Godin, 2010, p, 204), which in the case of diversity management is enabling the people working with an organisation to take away labels and ‘see’ the person behind the label. In turn, this enables appreciation of each other as unique  individuals with hopes, dreams, strengths and skills.

Patston highlights that common language helps create communities. For example, as part of the New Zealand cultural/national identity there is a notion of  “#8 wire and innovativeness …  characterized as ‘being able to think outside the box’ and ‘make something out of nothing’” (Rinne, & Fairweather, 2011, p. vii). This shared language and the layers that lie beneath it have spawned everything from art to advertisements, and is a source of pride for many Kiwis. So, one key to diversity management in organisations is to provide support (coaching, training, and safe forums for discussion) that encourage people to deconstruct the common language of the organisation – to pull it apart in a way that allows for non-conformity, and embraces paradoxes.

As indicated by Patston, this is hard, difficult work, and may result in two steps forwards and one step backwards; but where an organisation has true diversity, this process is essential. Organisations with a well-developed coaching culture may find that their employees’ communication skills are honed, and they are more able to set aside their own views to explore other perspectives. These types of conversation can lead to positive yet challenging conversations that can, over time, foster true diversity.

Money is often seen as the measure of value. Patston sees this as stifling technology innovation, and causing 98% of social issues. Alongside this, a need for definitive ‘answers’ (again the dichotomy of what is correct and what isn’t), at which point, Patston posits, we stop asking questions about who, what, why, where and when – the questions that enable us to see both commonalities and differences in a wide range of contexts, and to notice that we are unique and always changing.

Diversity management can provide opportunities for other values to come to the fore, and to encourage curiosity and questions. Opportunities might include formal and informal activities that provide a chance for employees to get to know each other, perhaps around a common interest or shared activity, as well as a buddy system for new employees (HCS, n.d.). Employee networks can offer opportunities for mentoring, or to seek advice, as well as a chance for (facilitated) candid discussions. Workplaces can also be designed to recognise diversity by providing a choice of different types of spaces (HCS, n.d.).

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Philip Patson. TEDxAuckland. http://tedxauckland.com/videos/the-label-libel-a-new-look-at-divers…

References

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About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ (http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/). I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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